Ship shape for the future

The history of CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) can be traced all the way back to 1850 and the days of river and island steam ships. Fast forward to 2019, and via changes thanks to acquisitions, divestments and restructuring, today CFL operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd (which in turn is wholly owned by the Scottish Government).

While it may hold the accolade of the UK’s largest ferry operator in terms of ships and destinations served and is one of the largest transport operators in Scotland, CFL is much more than just a multi-award winning ferry, port operator and ship management specialist. To those who live and work on the islands, CFL represents an essential lifeline, providing vital services and logistical support to the remote communities that it serves.

In the 12 months since CalMac last featured in Land, Sea & Air, the company has experienced several milestones – not least of which is the appointment of a new Managing Director. Robbie Drummond was confirmed in the role in June, following a spell as interim MD. Commenting at the time of the appointment, Mr Drummond was excited to take the helm of the company and keen to implement his fresh ideas and vision of future growth. “It is a huge honour to be appointed as managing director of CalMac at a very exciting time in the evolution of West coast ferry services,” he said.

Just four months after Robbie’s appointment and CalMac had further reason to celebrate, when it was named ‘Ferry Operator of the Year 2018’ at the National Transport Awards in October. The award is open to ferry operators running services from ports in the UK and Ireland, and entrants needed to demonstrate how they have improved services and facilities over the year. This included results that

have been achieved across performance and reliability, passenger growth, and customer satisfaction.

“This is an award for all our staff in recognition that no matter what challenges we face, whether it be extreme weather conditions or vessel availability, they will always provide the best possible service for our customers,” said Robbie. “Our core market is the lifeline services we provide to communities across the area we support, but the popularity of our services with visitors is growing year on year. This is a

huge recognition that our people can continue to provide a first-class customer experience in the face of booming numbers travelling with us.”

The figures that Robbie referred to go a long way to illustrating the success that the business has earned in the last two years. CalMac operates a fleet of 33 vessels across 26 routes serving island and remote mainland locations across the west coast. Last year the company carried more than 5.3 million passengers, an increase of more than 200,000, and nearly 1.4 million vehicles. “2018 was a historical high for carryings. Overall in the past five years passenger numbers have gone up by 17 per cent and vehicles by 37 per cent,” said Robbie.

“This growth has not been without challenges. It is these additional volumes combined with a higher number of sailings that we have been tasked with carrying out following the Scottish Government’s Ferries Plan, which is placing more and more pressure on our services. The consequence of both of these factors has reduced our options to manage disruptions.

“To counter this, we are working hard on short and medium term measures to improve the technical resilience of our fleet. These measures include in-service maintenance teams, preventative maintenance regimes, and targeted investment to help keep vessels in first class running order.” 2018 was evidently a notable year in terms of performance and it also ended on a high point for CalMac, when in December it joined 40 organisations from across the UK to pledge to take action to tackle the challenges of climate change. The company is the first transport operator to sign up to the Prince of Wales’ ‘Waste to Wealth Commitment’ organised by his responsible business network, Business in the Community. Leaders from business, government, academia and civil society joined the Prince at the initiative’s launch in London.

The pledge is designed to help tackle the challenges of climate change by committing to actions to prevent the destruction of natural habitats. The target is to double the nation’s resource productivity by using them more efficiently and to reduce avoidable waste by 2030. CalMac already has in place Environmental and Procurement Strategies to minimise waste, increase recycling and promote sustainable procurement.

“We are delighted to sign up to this commitment. As a company, we are already changing the way we work to make more use of the resources we use through reducing, reusing and recycling,” said CalMac’s Environmental Manager, Klare Chamberlain. “By the end of the first year of our Waste to Wealth Commitment we will have defined an action plan and will be working collaboratively to identify innovative solutions to some of the environmental challenges we face.

“This commitment gives us the ideal structure to build on work we have already done to help minimise our environmental impact. We are already committed to reducing total waste by five per cent year on year and replacing single use plastics,” added Klare. “But it is not just about what we throw away, it is thinking about how we can minimise the environmental impact of our working practices across the business. For instance, we now use more than 50 per cent of local produce in all our on-board restaurants, helping to cut down on food miles and we have introduced new fuel monitoring systems to make our vessel’s engines as efficient as possible.”

The past 12 months have been filled with exciting new developments for CFL – in addition to those already mentioned it apprenticeshas also taken over the running of Perth Port on behalf of Perth and Kinross Council, the company’s first venture on the east coast and greatly expanded its training programmes. Modern Apprenticeship opportunities with the company have more than doubled over the past two years thanks to new and innovative link ups with City of Glasgow College and Forth Ports. It now employs 23 Modern Apprentices across Deck, Engineering, Retail and Port Operation roles, a 130 per cent increase in youth employment opportunities with the company since 2016.

“This is further evidence of us delivering on our promises to improve services and facilitate sustainable economic growth across our area of operations,” continued Robbie. “As a major employer in the area we serve it makes perfect sense to create a stream of trained operators who can move seamlessly into the business. Investment in training is investment in first class future service standards. These are proportionately high value jobs that will in the long term bring increased spending power into the communities we support.” In addition to MAs, the company sponsored 11 officer cadets over the past year bringing the total number currently in training for a career at sea to 28. All this has been backed by guidance from the CalMac’s new independent Community Board set up to provide a strong local voice to help the company navigate strategic ferry issues.

This philosophy of continuous improvement looks set to continue into 2019, with improving fleet resilience laying at the top of the agenda for Robbie and his team, as they endeavour to ensure that its customers receive only the highest levels of service from their lifeline ferry operator.

New MD Robbie Drummond confirmed in June 2018
Named ‘Ferry Operator of the Year’ at National Transport Awards
Improving fleet resilience at the top of the agenda